London: Millions of people in the U.K. faced tough new coronavirus restrictions Saturday, with Scotland and Northern Ireland demanding tighter measures to try to halt a new variant of the virus that is believed to spread more quickly.
Northern Ireland went into a six-week lockdown and in Wales, restrictions that were relaxed for Christmas Day were also re-imposed.
The number of people under England’s top level of restrictions — Tier 4 — increased by 6 million on Saturday to 24 million people overall, around 43 per cent of England’s population. The region included London and many of its surrounding areas.
No indoor mixing of households is allowed, and only essential travel permitted. Gyms, pools, hairdressers and stores selling nonessential goods have been ordered to close and pubs and restaurants can only do takeout.
Business groups say the restrictions will be economically devastating to their members.
Another 570 daily deaths from COVID-19 were reported, bringing Britain’s total death toll to 70,195, the second-worst death toll in Europe after Italy.
Britain also reported more than 32,700 new cases of the disease on Christmas Day
The first cases of the U.K.’s new variant have now been detected in France and Spain. A French man living in England arrived in France on December 19 and tested positive for the new variant Friday, the French public health agency said.
He has no symptoms and is isolating at his home in the central city of Tours.
Meanwhile, health authorities in the Madrid region said they had confirmed the U.K. variant in four people, all of whom are in good health. Regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero said the new strain had arrived when an infected person flew into Madrid’s airport.